Pine Ridge Reservation’s intensifying suicide epidemic was examined in a recent New York Times article. Reporter Julie Bosman told the deeply saddening stories of young Natives who have taken their own lives and spoke with tribal members grappling with the monumental task of finding a solution.
Since December, nine people between the ages of 12 and 24 have committed suicide on Pine Ridge. According to the federal Indian Health Service, another 103 attempted that same grave feat.
To students on the reservation, the topic of suicide has become a permanent fixture in the world around them. “It’s just a common thing,” said 15-year-old Myra Slow Bear to the New York Times.
While five suicides in 2013 shook the reservation, the current rate is reason for panic. In February, Oglala Sioux tribe president John Yellow Bird Steele declared a state of emergency in hopes of receiving increased help with addressing the problem.
Currently, just six mental health professionals are at work on the reservation that is estimated to house up to 40,000 Natives. This is severely disproportionate considering the gravity of the issue that baffles the tribal leaders.
“When you have a good understanding of what’s happening, come back and tell me,” said Steele to the New York Times.
The goal of many on the reservation is to reach an understanding to this elusive dilemma. Families, school officials, and tribal leaders alike are united to find the root cause of such steep disparities, and further, create a permanent solution.
Cyber bulling has been pinpointed as a contributing factor towards feelings of depression and hopelessness present within many of Pine Ridge’s youth. From kids encouraging each other’s suicides to the spread of “how-to” noose making videos, social media has the potential to be a toxic place for many on the reservation.
Stephanie Schweitzer Dixon, executive director of the Front Porch Coalition for suicide prevention, describes a domino effect that can occur in areas where teen suicide is prevalent.
Behind all of this lies the reality of oppression that is experienced by Native Americans. Historical stifling of cultural expression and economic opportunity has led to epidemics of drug and alcohol abuse, homelessness, and domestic violence for which the United States government has not taken due responsibility.
While conditions are bleak on the reservation, the determination to turn things around is contagious. Native youth stand at the front line of this effort.
From kids such as Janay Jumping Eagle, taking part in the Generation Indigenous Native youth challenge, to artists like Nataanii Means, who wish to inspire change through creative outlets, there is a great force being put into the spread of positivity and strength on reservations.
The Lakota People’s Law Project is all too aware of problems such as teen suicide which plague many Native reservations. We are committed to bringing federal attention to such issues and working with tribes to reach a better place.